COLOURED blue and yellow, Tapan Kumar Biswas’s double-storey house stood out in Bora in North 24 Paraganas, amid the village’s mud huts. The two Maruti cars in its compound were the only cars in the village.
Now a probe into an expanding racket in sale of newborn children in West Bengal centres around this house and its 48-year-old owner.
On the intervening night of November 26 and 27, Biswas was arrested from Memari in Bardhaman, from his sister’s house. Police believe Biswas was the kingpin of the child trafficking racket, busted in the small town of Baduria on November 21 and suspected to be spread across several states.
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On Wednesday, the CID arrested two more doctors for their alleged involvement in the racket, taking the total number of arrests so far to 20. One of the two doctors held on Wednesday, Dr Dilip Ghosh, a resident of Salt Lake, Kolkata, is a member of the BJP and fought municipal corporation elections on its ticket. The BJP on Wednesday suspended him from the party. The other doctor, Dr Nityananda Biswas of Behala, was arrested on the statement of a victim.
Police say their probe indicates that the nework led by Biswas sold 50 newborn babies. He would allegedly target unwed pregnant women, desperate to get rid of their babies. If the demand was urgent, he would reportedly also sell to clients children born to mothers at his clinic, after telling them their baby was stillborn. Boys would sell for Rs 2 lakh, girls for half the amount. Fair-skinned children were costlier.
Biswas, who doesn’t hold any medical degree, worked as the head doctor at the Sohan Nursing Home in Baduria. The racket unfolded when a CID raid on the clinic led to the recovery of three newborns wrapped in cotton and kept in three biscuit cartons.
The Gaighata block, under which Biswas’s village Bora falls, has 46 health centres. But the story of most is the same as that of the Bora Primary Health Centre. Meant to cater to two villages and 5,000 people, it is badly equipped and understaffed, with no doctors in attendance. Serious cases are referred to the Chandpara block medical centre, 5 km away.
The absence of medical facilities both here and in Thakurnagar fuelled Biswas’s rise. Police say he began as a helper in clinics. Soon he had started diagnosing patients and dispensing medicines, and later even delivering babies. A board came up outside his clinic in Thakurnagar, listing his various medical “degrees”. The business kept growing.
Along the way, Biswas faced several serious cases, but little came in the way of his rise. The Gaighata police say he was arrested twice. In 2005, he was in jail for two months after a baby went missing, and in 2009, he spent three months behind bars after he was named in the disappearance of a minor girl. In 2014, Biswas’s name was linked to another missing child and he again spent three months in jail, before getting bail.
Within months of coming out, Sohan Nursing Home was up and running. People in the area apparently remained clueless about his past.
Liton Roy’s 12-year-old daughter Bristhi was delivered by Biswas. “There were no health-care centres here at the time and the hospital was far off. He charged us comparatively little — Rs 4,000, much less than what we would otherwise have to spend,” says Roy, who lives in Bora.
Neighbor Atul Chandra Ghatak, a local farmer, admits there were suspicions about Biswas’s qualifications and the nature of his clinic, but no one really looked closely. “We knew his degrees were fake, but we didn’t complain. Soon after the board came up, he bought his first car. We used to see heavily pregnant young girls enter his clinic and then leave without their babies. We knew he was running an illegal abortion clinic. We didn’t know, however, that he was selling newborns,” he says.
Soma Sumakha of Purnipara says she consulted Biswas during her pregnancy, and he advised her to have her delivery at Sohan Nursing Home. After the delivery, she was told she had given birth to a stillborn.
Says Soma’s neighbour Sita Biswas, “She was devastated. We asked Biswas to show us the body of the stillborn. He refused. He said the child was in no condition to be seen. I think as a mother Soma instinctively knew he was lying. She said that she had heard her baby crying.”
Sita adds that Sumakha’s husband divorced her after the incident. She has since remarried, and refused to talk to The Indian Express.
In the surgeries he performed, Biswas’s assistant was Nazma Bibi, an ayah at the nursing home.
Nazma ran her own clinic too, from a ground-floor room of her house in Jadurhat, North Parganas, where she was locally known as “dai maa (midwife)”. The other two rooms were used by her husband Bakbul Baidya as garment stores. Along with the Sohan Nursing Home, Nazma’s clinic was raided by the CID on November 21.
In Jadurhat too, it was an open secret that Nazma often carried out illegal abortions, referring the more complicated cases to Biswas. But in an area where such clinics, often in the garb of NGOs and nursing homes, are common, no one much cared.
The Jadurhat PHC, located a stone’s throw from Nazma’s clinic, mostly remains shut, say villagers. “A doctor comes thrice a week and stays for a short while. So we depend on Nazma Bibi,” says resident Suraj Mondal.
The third main accused in the racket is Utpala Byapari, who runs the NGO Subodh Dutta Welfare Trust, which claims to provide free education to underprivileged children and free medical care to women and children.
“Byapari would bring pregnant women who were mentally challenged to her house, in the name of helping them. After delivery, Nazma would discharge them, keeping the newborn with her,” a CID official said.
Police allege that the babies were transported using an ambulance owned by the NGO, and that it was even used as a delivery room when required.
It was through Nazma that Byapari allegedly got in touch with Biswas.
As the racket spread, police allege, Biswas became the supplier of babies, while Byapari started handling the clients. Prabhat Sarkar of Habra, a clerk with a law degree, was allegedly hired to take care of legalities such as drawing up of documents, with the help of “associate” Jhantu Biswas.
“This racket has a multi-branch modus operandi where doctors, nursing homes, and NGOs are involved… The exact number (of babies who were sold by these accused) is yet to be ascertained,” said Akash Magharia, SS (Special superintendent), CID.